Trumbull diversity committee cancels meeting after half of members quit

Exterior of Trumbull Town Hall, in Trumbull, Conn. April 5, 2017.

Exterior of Trumbull Town Hall, in Trumbull, Conn. April 5, 2017.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — Half of the town’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force members have quit in the past two months amid controversy over the group’s chairman.

The last time the eight-member group met was in January, shortly before social media blew up over chairman Tara Figueroa’s comments — made in July — calling the Blue Lives Matter flag a symbol of racial bigotry and comparing it to the Confederate flag.

The comments came to light in February. The February meeting was not held and now the March 18 meeting has been canceled because the group no longer has a quorum.

Initially, comments about Figueroa’s texts were confined to social media but have since reached the town council level, splitting the council along party lines.

Critics have said Figueroa’s comments show an anti-police bias. Supporters and Figueroa herself have denied that, saying that the firestorm around her statements show how much work still needs to be done to get people to common ground.

“Regardless of whether one chooses to have a Blue Lives Matter flag, or believes it is a symbol of racism, it is a mistake to frame the issue as pro-police versus anti-police,” Figueroa wrote in a letter to the town council. “People on all sides of this issue are expressing opinions they are entitled to, on how they feel it would be best to show respect and support for good law enforcement.”

On March 1, Minority Leader Carl Massaro, R-3rd, introduced a resolution requiring the task force to “suspend its activities until such time as the Town Council reviews it charge, the Task Force provides a quarterly report to the Town Council and a new chairperson of the Task Force is selected.”

“These are matters of pressing concern to the council and should be heard as soon as possible,” Massaro said.

The council Democrats responded March 14 with a statement signed by the entire 15-member caucus that, “The events of the last several weeks have strengthened our belief that diversity, equity and inclusion work is vital to the well being of our town.”

Council member Joanne Glasser Orenstein, D-3rd, said the support of the town council majority was crucial to attracting and retaining new members.

“What we’re doing now is to give an affirmation to the whole committee,” she said. “Some members felt unappreciated, and to anyone else who chooses to volunteer, we want to affirm our support. The town truly needs this.”

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro said she was sorry to see the council seemingly headed toward a party-line vote on the task force’s future.

“This shouldn’t be political,” she said. “This should be a conversation about what’s best for the future of our town.”

Figueroa agreed with others who have said the incident demonstrated the need for the task force’s work.

“If Trumbull is to be viewed as a welcoming, safe and inclusive place for all its residents, employees and business owners, its leaders ought to tolerate diversity, denounce threats and seek to understand rather than to silence opinions — especially when it comes to matters of racial justice,” she said.